FiFo: for, against

The West Australian 

Most FIFO families cope well

Andrew Tillett Canberra, The West Australian October 24, 2013
Communities where many fly-in, fly-out workers live are not getting the full benefits of the resources boom when they return home, a new report says.

Groundbreaking WA research also says long distance commuting does not necessarily cause drug and alcohol abuse, marriage break-ups or domestic violence but can aggravate them.

The Curtin University research from the Co-operative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation says most FIFO families cope well with the career, willing to sacrifice time away from home for higher pay.

The impact FIFO has on remote mining communities has come under much scrutiny with claims it hollows out towns and is "a cancer of the bush".

But the researchers say this is the first examination of the other side of FIFO to assess effects on the areas that provide these workers. They concentrated on Mandurah and Busselton because a significant number of FIFO workers live there.

Co-author Fiona McKenzie said a lot of money flowed into a high-paid miner's hometown but not a lot of it stayed there. It was often soaked up by big mortgages and holidays away.

A lot of the income also went to Bunbury because it had more shops than Busselton, where resentment between "haves" and "have nots" was emerging.

One gripe of FIFO workers was they believed some businesses charged them a "high-vis vest" premium, such as for car servicing, because they presumed they could afford it.

"A couple of businesses sheepishly admitted that maybe it happened," Professor McKenzie said.
A growing concern was that FIFO towns were vulnerable to the mining boom-bust cycle.

She said FIFO families were just like any other but their social problems could worsen more quickly. Despite criticism FIFO workers did not give back to towns they worked in, such as volunteering or playing sport, researchers found no definitive evidence of lower participation rates.

Professor McKenzie said many were happy to give their time and use their skills learnt at mines.
But service providers cited more school truancy and lack of parental involvement in sport.

 Hooked on a FIFO lifestyle

Author: Marnie McKimmie
Publication: The West Australian (2,Wed 01 May 2013)

The risk factors for addiction are greater among fly-in, fly-out workers because of the isolation, stress and loneliness. That is why more support services are needed in this sector. W hile not automatically a risk factor for addiction, it was not surprising that some fly-in, fly-out workers might find themselves developing a dependence on alcohol or drugs, Steve Allsop said.

Professor Allsop urged local government agencies and resource companies to accelerate efforts to develop remote and regional communities into centres that offered far more recreational opportunities and support services for workers seeking to relax, switch off and deal with stress and loneliness. Reassuringly, he said, recent FIFO reports from the Department of Health had dispelled myths that this style of work was always damaging to health and had reported that many individuals and families were making it work well -- it was a risk for some but not everyone. "But on the other hand, we know that things like separation from normal social and family contact, working long hours, having high disposable income, working in unpleasant environmental conditions, such as where it is very hot, increase the risk of alcohol and drug problems," he said.
"You work hard and then you play hard and you have all this disposable income and not a lot to do, and so for some people -- not all -- it does increase the risk. "Their sleeping patterns become disordered and they might use medications or other drugs to cope with that. They also work very hard and they get into a culture and lifestyle which celebrates hard work and heavy use.
"If you live in an environment where there is no family around you -- just mates who are going down the pub to celebrate the end of the week and drink bucketloads of alcohol -- it is not going to be a surprise that some people get into difficulty. "However, a lot of those in the industry are trying to do the right thing. They are building support services and recreational facilities.

Full story

Support set up for FIFO families

Albany Advertiser March 21, 2013

With the number of fly-in fly-out workers in Albany increasing over the past year, a group has been set up to support families affected by the challenging lifestyle.
It comes after the release in February of the Regional Australia Committee report into the impact of the FIFO industry on regional communities across Australia.
Albany’s Hollie Durack leads the new group called Albany FIFO Families, which met for the first time on Saturday and is a social and support network for local FIFO employees and their families.
There are more than 100 FIFO oil, gas and mining workers in Albany. Rio Tinto began direct flights for its Brockman iron ore mines a year ago, a program which has now grown to include 40 workers.
Ms Durack’s husband Chris works at the Solomon Hub in the Pilbara for Lleyton Contractors and has been flying out for work for the past three years.
“There are 90,000 FIFO workers in WA alone and with Rio Tinto flying from here now, those numbers are only going to increase,” Ms Durack said.
“Having a FIFO partner does take its toll, it is hard, everyone has their low days, you don’t really understand the lifestyle until you experience it.”

Full story


Boys Behaving Badly

Fri 22 Feb 2013

From our early history to recent times, sex and misogyny have been intrinsically linked to ideas of manhood. Novelist Jon Doust and historian Frank Bongiorno consider issues around what it means to be a man in our culture and how these attitudes have changed over time.
Chair: Jane Cornes

FIFO 'cancer of the bush'

AAP, The West Australian February 13, 2013 
Homes selling for 10 times their real value, McDonald’s workers flown in for shifts and primary school teachers who can’t afford to live in their own town.
This is the impact of fly-in fly-out workers on rural towns, a federal parliamentary inquiry has found, and it’s so serious one regional mayor has described the practice as “the cancer of the bush”.
The house Regional Australia Committee found FIFO and drive-in, drive-out practices overlook locals seeking jobs in the mining boom taking place on their doorstep.
As locals miss out, the influx of temporary workers is creating housing shortages, driving up real estate prices and straining already limited public services.
Independent MP Tony Windsor, who chaired the committee which handed down its report today, said the practice was threatening to “hollow out” the future of country towns.
“If that becomes the norm, we do just have a lot of inland communities that are essentially camps of workers,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“One of the great things that country communities have right across Australia is they still have a sense of community and it is under threat in some of these area.”
The report makes 14 suggestions to the mining industry and 21 recommendations to the federal Government, including reviewing the fringe benefits tax arrangements for FIFO workers.
Mr Windsor stressed the report was not anti-mining, but calls for resource firms to value rural Australians and their towns.

Full story

FIFO a personal choice, say miners

AAP, The West Australian February 13, 2013

The mining sector has responded angrily to suggestions fly-in fly-out workforces are a “cancer” on country towns, saying it’s a personal choice that suits some people.
A federal parliamentary inquiry has found the practice has a negative impact on some regional towns, including sending the cost of housing through the roof and dislocating families.
The report also recommended a review of fringe benefits tax arrangements for FIFO workers.
The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia urged wariness towards the suggestions, saying they could have unintended detrimental consequences on industry and communities.
Some 55 per cent of WA’s 120,000 resources sector workers were employed on FIFO rosters and the long-established practice was expected to grow in coming years, CMEWA said.
Chief executive Reg Howard-Smith said recommendations that added to the cost of doing business should be ignored because they would only add to other imposts that had turned the resources sector’s attention to other lower cost nations.
Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitch Hooke said the report “should be treated with a deal of scepticism“, vowing to strongly oppose any changes to the tax treatment of FIFO.
Likening the practice to cancer would be offensive to FIFO workers, without whom some mines would not have enough staff to operate, Mr Hooke said.
“Mining and FIFO is not hollowing out the regions in which it operates. It is boosting incomes, attracting families and reducing unemployment,” he said.

Full story

Even more



[ Murdoch University logo and link to homepage ]

Satisfaction with a fly-in/fly-out (FIFO) lifestyle: Is it related to rosters, children and support resources utilised by Australian employees and partners and does it impact on relationship quality and stress?

This study found that overall workers were quite satisfied with their rosters and relationships, including those on longer rosters. Partners on the other hand were less satisfied with relationships and rosters, particularly those who had children aged six to twelve years. Partners with no children reported the highest levels of perceived stress when compared to those with children.

TO READ MORE - School of Psychology

The Conversation 

Mining, sex work and STIs: why force a connection? 

Can the mining boom be blamed for the rising rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in some states? The Australian Medical Association thinks so, with its Queensland president Dr Richard Kidd attributing rising rates of gonorrhoea, syphilis and chlamydia in Queensland and Western Australia to bored and cashed-up miners.


A personal recollection

When I was a kid growing up in the south-west of Western Australia there was a mining town just up the road. Even though it was already in decline and most of the fifteen hotels in the main street were long gone, it still frightened my mother. 

She would say: “I don’t like all those men drinking in the hotels when they should be home looking after their families.”

That town has had more than one resurgence over the past twenty years but most of the workers have never lived there they drive in and drive out. As a consequence, the town remains near death.

My family and I saw plenty of mining towns in the 50s and 60s. We had cousins all over Western Australia and often visited them. In the late 1950s I took a trip to the Goldfields with an uncle and auntie and the difference between my small, rural hamlet and the bustling aggression of Kalgoorlie and Norseman was palpable. In those days there was no FIFO but the towns were dominated by men and no visit to Kalgoorlie was ever complete without a drive through Hay Street’s famous line of brothels.

A recent Four Corners program (May 2, 2012) concentrated on one small town in Queensland’s Bowen Basin, Moranbah, population 53,000. The town suffers from a population explosion, with services designed for its original expected population of 23,000. Now it is burgeoning with an excess of single men, or married men on their own.

Over the last two years the Mackay-Moranbah regional crime statistics make startling reading: common assault up 7%, domestic violence order breaches up 26%, sexual offences up 16%, and rape and attempted rape up 96%.

Developers in Mooranbah are tearing down family homes and putting up units. Shops are closing. A town is dying, yet its population is exploding.  

Mining towns have been dominated by men since the Roman Empire and before— and, like our ancestors, we continue to get it wrong.

When I was twelve my parents packed me off to boarding school in Perth. It was a family tradition my father had gone, as had his father before him. My older brother was into his third year when I arrived for my first. Those five years were the first in almost a decade living with men, in shared accommodation, in boarding houses and single men’s quarters.

One thing remains clear to me about men all too often they are not good at living on their own or in large single-sex groups. We know from many reports on the education sector in recent years that boys generally study better with girls in the classroom, yet we fail to plan our mining towns while understanding that men are better off with women in their homes and communities.

I lived in all-male shared-houses throughout rural Western Australia and worked for a year as a bank clerk in Papua New Guinea. Our lives in the men-only boarding houses were full of misogynistic banter, random sex with local women and the occasional brawl. After more than a decade living an all-male lifestyle, it took me three long-term relationships to recover from the damage done and to settle down and learn a number of necessary truths about the other gender.

In my first novel, Boy on a Wire, I have explored the impact an all-male community can have on pubescent boys. My second novel, To the Highlands, explores a male dominated expatriate community in all the horror of its misogynism, racism, and brutality. It is not surprising then that my early experiences would fill me with dread of a FIFO lifestyle.


(There could be more good news to come.)

Home is where the best work is

Kate Emery and Alex Massey, 
The West AustralianDecember 14, 2012
The way the mining boom has changed where and how West Australians work has been laid bare by figures showing the extent of the flight to the regions
More than one-fifth of those who spent census night in the Pilbara, Mid West, Kimberley, Goldfields, Esperance or Gascoyne did not live in regional WA and 19 per cent of regional workers said they travelled 1000km or more to get to work.

By comparison, nationwide just one per cent of people said they travelled more than 500km for work.

But while the figures showed the extent of the State's fly-in, fly-out workforce, they also suggested more people were deciding to move to the regions permanently.

Full article at The West Australian 

FIFO workers: Turn up or lose pay

Kate Emery, 
The West Australian 
December 11, 2012

WA fly-in, fly-out workers are being warned they face fines and docked pay if they call in sick over the Christmas period, with staff on one mine site told the only excuse for not turning up to work was "death".

Australian Contract Mining staff at Sandfire Resources' DeGrussa copper-gold mine north of Meekatharra were told at the weekend they would be fined the cost of their flights and accommodation and put on a lower pay grade if they failed to turn up for work on Christmas Day or New Year's Day.

Full article at The West Australian 

Bosses don't care: FIFO workers

Natasha Boddy,
The West Australian
December 10, 2012

Fly-in, fly-out workers believe their employers do not care about their wellbeing and do not feel valued for their contribution to a lucrative industry, new research suggests.

Preliminary findings from an ongoing Murdoch University study found that FIFO workers generally did not have an emotional attachment to their employer and that companies failed to foster a strong sense of belonging.

Libby Brook, of Murdoch University's school of psychology, said a survey of 223 FIFO workers found many did not feel their needs were being met and there was a sense of ambiguity around how well they felt their company supported them.

Full article at The West Australian

Symposium lifts lid on FIFO

Busselton Dunsborough Times 
Updated November 6, 2012

Surprising revelations about the fly-in, fly-out and drive-in, drive-out lifestyle were made at the first FIFO symposium in Busselton on Wednesday.
The joint Rio Tinto and City of Busselton event was attended by about 100 people, one quarter of which were FIFO workers.

Full article at The West Australian

Hidden problems of FIFO lifestyle

The West Australian
October 24, 2012
They are at the pointy end of our resources boom, workers in their thousands leaving behind family and friends for perhaps weeks to pursue a career and big money in some of the State's harshest environments. But at what cost?
Full article at The West Australian

FIFO workers 'are already' big drinkers

Cathy O'Leary
Medical Editor, 
The West Australian 
July 28, 2012
Fly-in, fly-out workers have significantly higher rates of smoking, risky drinking and obesity compared with other workers, according to a Health Department study.

It also found FIFOs were less likely to report they were struggling with mental health problems but more likely to report they had an injury than other workers.

The research, based on self-reported health behaviour collected in surveys between 2008 and 2010, compared 380 FIFO workers with 913 shiftworkers and 10,613 other workers in WA.

Co-authored by WA's public health chief, Tarun Weeramanthri, the study's results were published online this week in the Internal Medicine Journal.

It found FIFO workers drank more alcohol - consuming about four drinks in a day - and more often, three times a week.

Full article at The West Australian

Families 'demonised' over FIFO choice 

Cathy O'Leary
Medical Editor, 
The West Australian 
July 28, 2012
Fly-in, fly-out families have been wrongly demonised, according to a social planning group.
Andrew Watt, senior associate with Creating Communities and responsible for FIFO community work in the North West, said FIFO work was a reality and it was pointless taking the view it was bad.
“We’ve taken the approach to FIFO that it’s part of the changing nature of communities,” he said.
“You have to remember most people make the choice to be a FIFO, so they’re not forced to do it.”
Mr Watt said there were many myths about FIFO workers, including they were just after the money.
 Full article at The West Australian

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